19 September 2005

what's behind door number three

Last week was a busy week in podtown, which is why there haven't been many updates lately. First of all, I got the final three unknown digits of my National ID number, or Kennitala. This magic number, the access code for all things Icelandic, is constructed from your birth date, followed by three check numbers, and a 9 if you were born in the 20th century. J and I went to Þjóðskrá a week ago Friday, hoping their 10-day processing time was accurate, only to leave án kennitölu after watching someone shuffle through stacks of applications from Chinese dam-builders. They said maybe better luck next time if I brought the fax my employer had sent proving I had work

Last Monday I went up to the HR office at work, hoping to get a copy of said fax, only to meet the HR guy bearing a sketchily printed fax from Þjóðskrá, dated Friday at 8:54 am, not ten minutes after we'd left the place. Now that I'm in the system, I have been able to register properly for classes (they had lost my previous application) get a bank account (required all of 10 minutes plus a photo) and a yearly swim-card (also 10 minutes and a photo). I'm now also in the final stages of the res permit application after paying 6700 kronur to have a fatherly doctor listen to my lungs and pronounce that he believed the Massachusetts healthcare system to be trustworthy.

I also went to Warsaw for 4 days last week, a trip I am still processing information from. We went on a charter plane, one of two direct Icelandair flights from Keflavik to the airport in in Warsaw. I'd never been on a flight like this before, where you know most of the people on the plane, at least by face, and the announcements are entirely in a language you don't quite understand.

We stayed in the city center in Warsaw, and spent the days eating pierogis and pancakes, drinking beer, buying cheap Polish clothing, and remembering what it is like to be in a city with enough people to sustain three types of public transportation (subway, tram, and bus). We took refuge from the rain in a gilded Catholic church where we experienced a Friday afternoon Mass, we stumbled upon a modern jazz concert in a 19th century vodka distillery, and found remains of communism and the threads of Warsaw's future.

I had never been to a city like that, where the remainder of severely oppressive government and the extreme ravages of war are interspersed with incomplete, shiny hi-rise buildings. The city has had so many reincarnations and the layers are as thick as the graffitti on a New York subway tunnel. Each successive layer is added haphazardly, with Soviet-style (can it be called a style when it is so soulless?) apartment blocks shunted up against the remaining 18th and 19th century churches.

While we were there, I realized that thanks to my new experiences here in Iceland, I look at travel differently. Instead of thinking of the places I see as movie sets, or places only existing for the pleasure of the tourist, I try to imagine how I would live in the place. What neighborhood would I live in? Which grocery items would I try and prefer, where would I make my friends? Would we sit in cafes on Sundays or go out to the country? I always was more interested in what the people living in a city were doing than seeing the great monuments of a place, but now it is something I feel I can contemplate on a more personal level.

I won't be moving to Poland anytime soon though. After four days of bathing in extremely chlorinated water and eating sausages, my body was begging for fish and sulphured shower water. Living anywhere these days requires a lot of personal infrastructure, and when it has to all be set up at once, it is astounding how much time, money, and planning it takes.

1 comment:

The Prima said...

I would probably love to go to Poland and check out those communist-era buildings. It amazes me how architecture can so strongly reflect society or government.

What were the "threads of Warsaw's future"?